For non-US citizens to visit the United States, you must either travel under the country’s Visa Waiver programme (with an ‘ESTA’), or have a US visa.
You can apply for your ESTA directly with US Homeland Security – the cost is $14 (March 2016). Many companies offer an online application service for ESTAs however they will usually charge a premium for this and the process is actually very straightforward.
We have summarised the requirements below, but before applying we recommend that you visit the US Government’s website – and in particular their Frequently Asked Questions – for more detailed and up-to-date information about ESTA applications.
What is an ESTA?
To make your visit to the United States, you must either travel under the country’s Visa Waiver programme (with an ‘ESTA’), or have a US visa (or be a US citizen, of course).
An ESTA allows you to stay in the US under the Visa Waiver programme for up to 90 days and allows travel to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.
An ESTA is valid for two years, (or less if your passport expires in that time).
Countries applicable for the Visa Waiver Programme
If you’re from one of the countries in the table below you can travel under this programme unless
- You’re a national of a Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) country who has travelled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen on or after March 1st, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
- You have dual nationality with a VWP country and either Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria. (Not including Libya, Somalia and Yemen)
If this applies to you you’ll still be able to apply for a visa using the regular immigration process via the US embassies or consulates (contact details below), but you’ll no longer be able to enter the US under the Visa Waiver Programme (ESTA).
If you need a U.S. visa for urgent business, medical, or humanitarian travel to the United States, the U.S. embassies and consulates will be on hand to process applications on an expedited basis.
If you already hold an Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTA) and you previously indicated that you have dual nationality with one of the four countries listed above on your ESTA application, your ESTA will no longer be valid.
|Austria||Ireland||Republic of Korea|
If you don’t come from one of the countries on this list, you will need to apply for a visa via the US Embassy.
ESTA Application Requirements:
To obtain your ESTA:
- You must apply at least 72 hours before you travel.
- You must hold an individual machine-readable passport (if you don’t, you’ll need to get a visa instead).
- Provide accurate information on your ESTA application.
- Usually you will receive a response in seconds, but for very few passengers it could take up to 72 hours.
- If your ESTA is denied, you will need to get a visa.
- If you already have a visa for the US, you will not need an ESTA.
- You must apply online for your ESTA.